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The City Journals

Be Bright, Recycle Right: Trans-Jordan leads countywide recycling initiative

May 30, 2017 04:57PM ● By Kelly Cannon

Piles of rejected waste from recycling bins can be seen at Trans-Jordan Landfill. (Trans-Jordan Landfill)

By Mandy Ditto | [email protected]

Trans-Jordan Landfill launched a countywide recycling initiative in May, along with Salt Lake County and most cities in the valley, to better educate residents about what should and shouldn’t be recycled. The slogan for the campaign is Be Bright, Recycle Right.

Lesha Earl, the public education representative for Trans-Jordan Landfill, started working on coordinating the initiative at the beginning of the year. Earl began coordination with the seven-cities Trans-Jordan services — which includes Draper, Sandy, Midvale, South Jordan, Murray, West Jordan and Riverton — and then moved on to work with other cities and the county.

The inconsistencies and errors each city had in their recycling materials for their residents was reviewed in the first meeting in January and corrected, Earl said, so every city knew what could and couldn’t be recycled. 

“We determined that the current contamination rate is about 19 percent, meaning that of everything that gets put in a recycling bin in the valley, almost 20 percent of it ends up in landfills, and that is something we are tackling head- on,” Earl said. “We established the goal of reducing the contamination rate to 15 percent by 2018. Our hope was to reevaluate the contamination rate 12 months after the launch date of this campaign.”   

Though it took time to get the campaign approved by all involved, after Salt Lake County adopted the material created for the launch by Trans-Jordan in April, they were reading to start sending educational information to residents across the valley, she said.

“It’s awesome to have our Trans-Jordan logo along with the county logo saying, ‘We are united, this is the correct way to do it,’” Earl said. 

Not only did the recycling facilities get to share with cities what they do and don’t recycle through this campaign, but they were also able to share what is harmful for their facilities, equipment and workers to process. Along with the do’s of recycling the group came up with, they also produced a list of the top 10 contaminants for residents to be aware of. The do-not recycle items listed are the most important and most misunderstood: plastic bags, glass and Styrofoam, Earl said.

“It keeps it simple — they can just focus on what to do, rather than memorizing do this, don’t do this,” she said.

Every month, the group and all cities involved will release an article about one of the 10 contaminants, and give other options for what residents can do with those materials, rather than recycle or even trash them.


Draper City

Draper City sent out a graphic in their bimonthly newsletter sharing the dos and don’ts outlined by the recycling campaign, with the hopes that residents would cut it out and tape it to the inside of their recycling can lid as a reminder. Along with the graphic is a schedule of when and where residents can get rid of hazardous wastes throughout the summer, which will be coordinated by the county, like the glass-recycling location behind the Draper Public Works facility at 72 E. Sigovah Ct. (14525 S.). Hazardous materials can also be taken to Trans-Jordan.

Draper City’s involvement came first from their Trans-Jordan affiliation, but also from the desire to share recycling guidelines with residents that they could trust because it is often unclear, said Maridene Alexander, the city’s public information officer.

“I think we all want to be very good stewards of our environment. Once we know what we can put in our container people will do that,” Alexander said. “We appreciate what Trans-Jordan is doing and all the information they’ve put together and we just want to add our information to it as well, and make sure we are all sending out the correct information.”

Those at Trans-Jordan and cities across the valley don’t expect immediate change, but are hoping the contamination rate will decline in consistent ways as they work to continually educate residents, Earl said. 

“I believe that most people care about recycling, and if they are doing it wrong it’s an education issue and it’s one we are diligently addressing through this campaign,” she said. “What I hope this does is to remove the confusion… It’s going to be so nice to inform (residents) that if it’s not on this list, it doesn’t go in recycling. If we can get people to stop putting plastic bags in recycling, our sorters will be so happy… If you take your plastic bags to stores they will recycle them.”


Salt Lake County

Earl approached Ashlee Yoder, the sustainability manager for Salt Lake County, about the need for a common list to give residents in regards to recycling and contaminants, and a guide for those who don’t know where certain materials can be recycled in each city.

“Being in this position for about eight years I also see that there’s a need for a common list that residents can take from city to city and still feel confident they are doing the right thing,” Yoder said. “The county as a whole and the mayor thinks that higher recycling rates are good for everyone regardless of the city.”

Yoder and her team spend much of their time informing residents about recycling and waste, and recently commissioned a study to find out more about county recycling rates, which had never been done before. With that data, the county can give residents and city officials information on how they are doing at the county level, which “has been a great tool to give to cities and empower them to better communicate with their residents,” Yoder said.

As the umbrella over all 17 cities in the county, it’s important to be there to help educate residents, since Trans-Jordan only regularly communicates with seven of those cities, she said. Making sure that the businesses involved — material and recovery facilities — are succeeding while residents are recycling right is important to the county and the main reason to be involved in this campaign.

“We’re trying to empower residents to make these choices so that residents feel that they know what they need to do. If they have information from us, either at the county level or from Trans-Jordan, that says what is the right way to do things, they will be incentivized to recycle the right things and they will recycle more material because they know what they should and should not put in that system,” she said.


Sandy City

The city of Sandy has seen a contamination rate of 18 to 20 percent because of the confusion on what is acceptable to recycle, and Sandy City officials believe that the campaign to better educate will help bring the contamination down, said Paul Browning, assistant public works director for Sandy. 

“One of the frustrations I have is providing information to the residents, giving them a clear, concise list of what’s acceptable,” Browning said. Since curbside recycling was implemented in 1999, the list that the city tried to pull together for residents on what could be recycled became long and tedious, and was always changing, he said.

With the new campaign, the work put in by Earl and Mark Hoyer, Trans-Jordan’s director, allows people to find locations to recycle all kinds of materials, which will also help contamination and landfill rates, he said. Sandy City plans to put flyers in with utility bills during the summer, as well as work with their own waste management and others to do studies and see how the message is being received in the city.


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Draper City:

Salt Lake County: